Grandma Clari's empanadas

By • June 8, 2011 31 Comments

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Author Notes: All day I have been buffeted by a terrible nostalgia for everything Argentine and long gone, for my grandmother’s beautiful and varied cooking, for the shape of her fingers (one bent due to a kitchen mishap, another with its tip sliced off,) for the all-encompassing feeling of arriving at her kitchen surrounded by cousins. I blame all this on my old friend Hernán, who last night for no earthly reason posted a shameless list of classic Argentine hits from the mid-eighties.
My grandmother Clari was the sort who sent you to the vegetable patch to unearth potatoes if you wanted gnocci for lunch, and who all but burnt our small flat down when, on a visit once to Geneva, and wanting me to eat proper, home-made dulce de leche, set the big Le Creuset pot on a low fire and settled in for a nap. She died ten years ago, and I’ve been missing her awfully.
It’s easy to get really great empanadas on almost any Buenos Aires block, and in the past decade regional empanadas (especially those hailing from Tucumán, Salta and Mendoza) have really gussied up the offerings-- but nothing quite has the flavor of Clari’s home-made empanadas. I have a tiny black notebook in which she wrote out some recipes for me, and the only thing that stands out, possibly, apart from the alchemy and other ethers, is the combination of flavours created by combining plumped raisins, green olives and cumin, and the specific texture and juiciness of the hand-cut beef. Don’t take a short-cut on this step. In terms of the effort you’ll put into it it’s really not a big deal, but the results are incomparable to ground beef. If a shortcut is absolutely necessary here make it by using pre-made dough for the empanada rounds. It won’t be the same but it will be good enough, and not everyone has access to flaky beef back fat. But I really wouldn’t bother to make these with ground beef.
Clari baked her empanadas, and they’d emerge from the oven steaming and almost juicing over, just waiting for the first bite. But if anyone has a preference for frying I’d say, go for it. It’s got to be a great take on these. I recommend a nice Malbec and a late afternoon breeze to accompany the empanadas.

Buen provecho!

NOTE: You can play with the amounts of cumin, corriander, oregano and pimentón to come up with your own best flavour.

The images are of my grandmother's kitchen, her standing in front of the house (sometime in the 50's, I'm guessing) of our wood burning empanada and pizza oven, and a generic image of empanadas.


Serves lots

Dough for empanadas

  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 8 1/2 ounces flaky beef fat, rendered and cooled, or other fat, or oil
  • 8 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Filling for empanadas

  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 pounds spring onions
  • a little over half a pound green olives
  • 2-3 tablespoons rendered and cooled beef fat
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound excellent fillet of beef
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pimentón
  • salt and pepper
  1. For the dough: mix the flour, salt and cooled rendered fat. Add water as you mix the ingredients, until the mass holds together and becomes a smooth dough. Kneed only until it holds its own shape well, wrap in plastic wrap and allow an hour to rest at room temp. When you're ready, divide into manageable portions and roll out into a thin layer, 2 or 3 millimeters thick. Cut into 8 to 10 cm discs. Keep these disks humid by stacking them with with plastic wrap between each disk and covering the entire pile. You can refridgerate while making the filling.
  2. For the filling: First, the mise en place: Hydrate the raisins in water or red wine and set aside. Remove the pits from the green olives, dice, and set aside. Boil the eggs for about 8 minutes, cool, peel and chop and set aside. Finely chop the beef into thin, small slices ressembling what you might be served at a fine Parisisan bistro if you asked for a good beef tartae, a pile of dsticts beef shavings far from a mash. Please enjoy this last step thoroughly!
  3. Finely chop the spring onions, onion and deveined green pepper. Melt the rendered beef fat in a large pot and begin to gently soften the onions and pepper. You do not want them in any way to crisp. Crush the corrander seeds, and add them along with salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. Add tomato paste and sugar.
  4. Ad the beef and mix while it begins to cook, until it loses its raw colour. Add the olives and raisins.
  5. Add chopped cooked eggs and pimentón, mix very gently and check that the spicing is to your taste. Allow the filling to cool before forming the empanadas.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 400 F. Remove dough discs from fridge, allow to reach room temperature. Place a little more than a tablespoon of filling on one side of each disc and fold the other half over it, sealing the edges with water and neat folds, as if you were crimping a pie.
  7. These are best made on a pizza stone, but use what you've got. If you are using a plain metal oven tray, I'd recommend sprinkling with some polenta before placing the empanadas on top. These normally need to bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, and emerge succculent and piping hot.

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